Friday, September 2, 2011

Homeschooling With College In Mind

Do you know it's possible to provide a high-quality homeschool program with just a library and computer at your disposal? Ask me how I know this.

This year I have less to spend on curriculum than ever before, so I'm relying heavily on prayer, instinct, research and the library. I have a basic curriculum philosophy that makes this task less daunting than it seems

Here's my two cents on what upper-elementary children need. 

Able students ages nine and over should read for an hour a day, write for a half-hour, edit their writing for fifteen minutes (learning grammar, spelling, and mechanics in the process, with adult help), do math for forty-five minutes, and be asked to speak about their reading and learning for at least fifteen minutes, in the form of narration

Hands-on learning should take up another eight hours a week (student-directed most of the time), and a couple hours a week should be spent learning about classical art and music. And of course, keep them moving for physical fitness, clear thinking, and stress reduction.

Follow these generic guidelines and your student will read, write, speak and think well enough to make a difference in this life.

While not everyone is college material, I do plan to educate my children with college as a distant goal, unless the Lord makes it clear we're to pursue another path.

How important is college? 

I think young adults who've learned a trade or business from their parents can easily skip it. But those with no trade experience or entrepreneurial talent will need to consider some type of college.....and be academically ready for it.

17.1% of Americans have a bachelor's degree and 9.9% have a doctorate or professional degree. 53.9% of Americans have attended college to some degree. My husband and I both have bachelor's degrees and a good amount of post-graduate units. It would be unusual if our children weren't able to attain at least what we have, in terms of education.

And so as I research what we'll learn and read this year, I keep college-readiness in mind...second only to their heart learning.

One of my most time-consuming tasks is to compile a book list for my fourth grader. As I've researched for this, I've been surprised to find that most grade-level reading material is not challenging enough to prepare students for college. For example, typical texts offered to fourth graders across the country have a 640L to 789L Lexile measure. The Lexile method of leveling books uses two important indicators of text difficulty......word frequency and sentence length. College and career readiness by the end of grade 12 requires grade 4 students to be reading texts in the 770L to 910L range. See tables below.

With this range in mind I endeavored to find a book list I could trust, so that every year I'm not forced to compile my own....requiring hours and hours of work. Surprisingly, even Sonlight, a highly-respected literature-based homeschooling company, recommends books for fourth graders (Core E for history-based books/biographies, or Grade 4/5 readers for lighter fare) with Lexiles too low to push students toward college readiness. I found only six books within the desired range, from both lists. There may be a few more, but some of the books aren't yet Lexile leveled.

All my efforts thus far leave me with a book list containing a whopping twelve books...which won't get us very far into the year. About six are history-based and the other six are more enjoyable, story-driven picks.

Freedom Train
Shades of Gray
Turn Homeward, Hannalee
Old Yeller
Thimble Summer
Sing Down The Moon  
Ralph S. Mouse
Emily's Runaway Imagination
Mustang Wild Spirit of the West
The Toothpaste Millionaire

I've decided my next project, as Peter reads through this list of twelve books, is to level the entire list of Newberry Medal and Honor books. Once that's done, I'll have that prepared list to draw from this year, and in the coming years. Fortunately, both my boys' interests are piqued when they see the familiar Newberry Medal or Honor symbol on the cover of books. Their respect for this symbol works in my favor!

To look up the Lexile level for a book, use this link and go to the "quick book search" box at the top right of the page. If Lexile hasn't leveled it yet, try doing it yourself with this link.

I will require Peter to read in the college-readiness range for 30 minutes a day, and for another 30 minutes he can read whatever he desires. Last year, his third-grade year, he read fiction books that were too low (Boxcar Children and other mysteries). Fortunately though, he also read a lot of adult-level birding and gardening books that brought his overall reading ability much higher. 

The information below is excerpted from the Lexile website (link for the information here), and is included in this post for your information. Whether your child is home taught or goes to a traditional school, you'll find this information interesting and useful. It shouldn't be regarded as gospel, by any means, but since many books are labeled with a Lexile level, this at least introduces you to the Lexile system. At this link you'll find a general overview, which you may want to read before looking at what I've provided below


Lexile®-to-Grade correspondence 

There is no direct correspondence between a specific Lexile measure and a specific grade level. Within any classroom or grade, there will be a range of readers and a range of reading materials. For example, in a fifth-grade classroom there will be some readers who are ahead of the typical reader (about 250L above) and some readers who are behind the typical reader (about 250L below). To say that some books are "just right" for fifth graders assumes that all fifth graders are reading at the same level. The Lexile® Framework for Reading is intended to match readers with texts at whatever level the reader is reading.

MetaMetrics® has studied the ranges of Lexile reader measures and Lexile text measures at specific grades in an effort to describe the typical Lexile measures of texts and the typical Lexile measures of students of a given grade level. This information is for descriptive purposes only and should not be interpreted as a prescribed guide about what an appropriate reader measure or text measure should be for a given grade.

The tables below show the middle 50% of reader measures and text measures for each grade. The middle 50% is called the interquartile range (IQR). The lower number in each range marks the 25th percentile of readers or texts and the higher number in each range marks the 75th percentile of readers or texts. It is important to note that 25% of students and texts in the studies had measures below the lower number and 25% had measures above the higher number. Data for the reader measures came from a national sample of students.

Typical Reader Measures, by Grade

GradeReader Measures, Mid-Year
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
1Up to 300L
2140L to 500L
3330L to 700L
4445L to 810L
5565L to 910L
6665L to 1000L
7735L to 1065L
8805L to 1100L
9855L to 1165L
10905L to 1195L
11 and 12940L to 1210L

Data for the first column of text measures came from a research study designed to examine collections of textbooks designated for specific grades (MetaMetrics, 2009). The "stretch" text measures (defined in 2010 through studies related to the development of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts) in the second column represent the demand of text that students should be reading to be college and career ready by the end of Grade 12.

Typical Text Measures, by Grade

GradeText Demand Study 2009
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
"Stretch" Text Measures
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
1230L to 420L220L to 500L
2450L to 570L450L to 620L
3600L to 730L550L to 790L
4640L to780L770L to 910L
5730L to 850L860L to 980L
6860L to 920L950L to 1040L
7880L to 960L1000L to 1090L
8900L to 1010L1040L to 1160L
9960L to 1110L1080L to 1230L
10920L to 1120L1110L to 1310L
11 and 121070L to 1220L1210L to 1360L
Notice that there is considerable overlap between the grades. This is typical of student reading levels and texts published for each grade. In addition, the level of support provided during reading and reader motivation have an impact on the reading experience. Students who are interested in reading about a specific topic (and are therefore motivated) often are able to read text at a higher level than would be forecasted by the reader's Lexile measure.

Although a student may be an excellent reader, it is incorrect to assume that he or she will comprehend text typically found at (and intended for) a higher grade level. A high Lexile measure for a student in one grade indicates that the student can read grade-level-appropriate materials at a very high comprehension rate. The student may not have the background knowledge or maturity to understand material written for an older audience. It is always necessary to preview materials prior to selecting them for a student.

It is important to note that the Lexile measure of a book refers to its text difficulty only. A Lexile measure does not address the content or quality of the book. Lexile measures are based on two well-established predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. Many other factors affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including its content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile measure is a good starting point in your book-selection process, but you should always consider these other factors when making a decision about which book to choose.

The real power of The Lexile Framework is in matching readers to text-no matter where the reader is in the development of his or her reading skills-and in examining reader growth. When teachers know Lexile reader measures and Lexile text measures, they can match their students with the texts that will maximize learning and growth.


Andrew & Terri said...

This was interesting info, thanks! I've been using the Accelerated Reader levels to help me choose books for Gabe. I will have to see how they overlap and which system I like better. The AR levels seem simpler off the top, but maybe Lexile levels are a more detailed way of looking at things.

p.s. We made it through two Magic Tree House books. He did fine reading them (with help on 3 or 4 words a chapter), but it was too much for his attention span. I think it gave him a boost, though. Today we sat down with a Level 3 easy reader, and he flew through three chapters of his own volition.

Christine said...

Yeah on the reading, Terri!

I think the AR levels are easier, but probably not quite as accurate. Close enough? Probably. I found that if AR leveled a book in the 5th grade plus range, it was near college level readiness reading for a fourth grader (according to Lexile). So if you want college for your child, aim for AR levels one grade level ahead at least, and that will be the lower to middle range of college readiness. If that makes sense! :)

I think understanding the Lexiles is important now that they seem to be surpassing AR in countrywide use and are instrumental in creating national academic standards, according to what I read recently.

Not that any of this matters for you yet, Terri!

For anyone reading who might be worried about their younger child, don't. I've seen children grow two grade levels or more in reading in one year. The more they read the more they grow, so if they're below grade level in first or second grade, that doesn't at all mean they'll be behind by the beginning of fourth grade.

After the third grade, though, it's harder to catch up because the texts are more sophisticated, involving more science and social studies. Comprehension becomes more problematic and it's harder to find easy material that doesn't feel juvenile to the reader.

I've read statistics that indicate students not reading at grade level by the third grade drop out of high school at higher rates.

Andrew & Terri said...

Yeah..that's kind of my impression after one minute of research. ;) I looked up the Magic Tree House book we just finished and they had it rated at 410 Lexile. I think it was a 2.1 on the AR scale, but the Lexile levels put it at late first grade. That's all kind of crazy to me since my third graders loved them and read them all the time...